JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 photographic works, framed in white and umatted, and hung against white and fabric-covered walls in the East and West gallery spaces, the smaller viewing room, and the hallway nook. All of the works are archival pigment prints hand woven with wax print fabric, made in 2018. Physical sizes range from roughly 36×24 to 91×60 inches, and all of the works are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: Kyle Meyer’s woven photographs are a smart example of how a fast follower can leverage existing ideas percolating around in the artistic mix and reimagine them in new and original ways.
Meyer’s large scale works combine equal parts photographic portraiture and craft weaving. His photographs document men from the LGBTQ community in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), a nation where the local laws force queerness into hiding. Each man (or couple, in one instance) wears a headdress made from the brightly patterned wax fabric traditionally worn by women (selected by the sitter), upending our usual assumptions about clothing, gender, and beauty. Meyer then prints the images and then slices them up, meticulously interweaving the pictures with strips of the actual fabric from the headdress, creating hybrid works that merge image and object.
The concept of making compassionate portraits of members of the LGBTQ community, especially those who are marginalized by either the laws or the social conventions of their home countries, isn’t a new one (Zanele Muholi did exactly that in South Africa a decade ago), nor is the idea of using weaving approaches to physically interrupt and remake a photograph (Dinh Q. Lê has built his artistic career upon merging traditional Vietnamese basket weave patterns into his photographic constructions). And Yinka Shonibare has broadly explored the artistic use of African wax fabrics, wrapping mannequins and other objects in their brash patterns. So Meyer’s entry point isn’t one of first mover discovery or innovation; instead, he has learned from these and other approaches and then applied those discrete lessons to create his own unique combinations.
The success of Meyer’s works comes in the careful integration of separate conceptual frameworks, where the resulting fusion produces something more thoughtful and layered than the individual parts might have suggested on their own. Aside from the gender inversion of the headdress, the portraits are relatively straightforward, their massive scale forcing us into more intimate dialogue with the unidentified sitters. The twists and turns of the fabric, when molded into intricate turbans, swooping piles, or cascading tumbles, provide a jolt of color and vibrancy, and the insistent stares of the sitters make the exchange between viewer and viewed all the more emotional.
The weaving effect naturally creates an alternating, almost pixelized, break up of the original image, and depending on the thickness of the strips and the repetitions of thick or thin, straight grids or undulating patterns can be achieved that screen the face of the subject. While in most cases, deliberately obscuring the sitter might not be a desired outcome, in this particular situation, the subject might not want his identity or participation in the project to be known, and so this veiling effect matches perfectly with the idea of protecting the subject’s identity. By using the very fabric that was on his head to guard the sitter against recognition, and to do so using traditional Swazi weaving techniques, turns the creation back in on itself, intimately connecting the two halves of the artistic process.
As final art objects, the works have a hefty physical presence on the wall, the loose scraps of fabric along the edges creating a tactile roughness that softens the crispness of the photographs. Seeing the faces is like looking through the mesh of a screen door or the flickering static of a television, the persona behind the veil simultaneously disguised and revealed, the fluidity of gender reinforced by the deliberate uncertainty of the interwoven imagery. Meyer’s unusual integration of print and fabric ultimately becomes a process of artistic mediation, whose embedded approximations allow the sitters to see the beauty in themselves, even if their social realities fail to acknowledge it.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $6500 to $32000 based on size. Meyer’s work has no secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.